An African Wax


That’s is what I was desperately searching for yesterday afternoon. Sounds like a Parisienne’s secret beauty treatment, similar to une brésilienne, which often  leaves women in tears on the esthetician’s table. It’s not. It’s a simple stretch of fabric sold in swaths of 6 yards.

Despite their exotic name, African waxes are traditionally made in Holland, where weavers use wax to create the pattern, very much like a batik. The fabrics are dyed in bright colors with exotic prints, featuring chickens, geese, and Gucci handbags. They are then shipped to African countries where women take the 1.5m x 5.5m rectangles and transform them into bright, cheerful dresses, usually with a matching head scarf/hat that they twist into fabulous forms with stunning dexterity.

When I went to Africa 20 years ago, I bought myself a lovely wax and it has been our Thanksgiving table cloth ever since. 25 years of grease stains and red wine incidents have taken their toll. A few years ago I trimmed off a 1 meter bit to serve as butterfly wings for a Halloween costume, and last year was the proverbial straw for my poor camel when we purchased a new dining table that is simple too wide for my scrap of fabric.

When I explained to Mr French that I’d be spending an entire lunch hour looking for a new table cloth, he was somewhat dismayed. We’ve got a beautiful Jacquard and a stunning Basque cloth. What did African prints have to do with pilgrims and American Indians, any way. I couldn’t come up with a logical explanation, because it’s not logical. I need my cloth.

P1040100Chateau Rouge metro station is known for the many boutiques that serve the local African community that lives in the Goutte d’Or neighborhood. I love that the poorer part of town, just behind the Tati store, is the “Drop of Gold” area. Even today, the streets are spotted with jewelry stores selling gold by the weight.

It was only as I was on the escalator getting out of the metro that I realized I may have done something stupid. I had no address, no particular name of a shop, just the knowledge that this was the place to head. I looked up the street. No waxes. I looked down. Just more luggage stores and gold shops. I decided to cross the road and head up a side street, where I found one African hair store after the other. There may have been 20 of them on one small block. The only other commerce was shop with phone cabins for overseas calls, and an Asian lady trying to sell gold watches to passers by.

P1040099At the corner, I turned left, crossing back to the metro and heading up another side street. A Kosher restaurant, a Hallal butcher and more African hair salons, with a bakery on the corner. I stopped to take a photo of the flat, round breads in the window, marveling a the fact that immigrants to this neighborhood may not even know what a baguette is, when a man bumped into me. I looked up and saw that he was blind. I explained where were and where were headed, as I guided him to the bakery door. He replied, “Oh, here it is, I see, I see.”

Leaving him inside the warm bakery with their friendly staff, I turned the corner et voilà African Wax was beaming in bright red letters on a yellow sign. I walked in and was astonished by the prices: 62€ for 6 yards. I started looking around, and found the 47€ batches. The colors were bright and tropical, and it was hard to resist. I headed out the door, in search of more. The next shop was full of Africans, eating, joking and trying to sell their goods to the owner. Like Goldilocks, it took a third try to find the place that was just right for me. 10€ bolts in a vivid aqua with mustards and burnt oranges. In the corner of the shop, an imam was blessing a woman.

I joked with the salesman that I was in Paris, buying Dutch fabric, designed for Africans, being sold by a Tunisian for an American holiday.


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4 thoughts on “An African Wax

  1. Having never heard of African wax, I entered it in Google and saw beautiful examples in Google Image. I like your last sentence. There are so many goods available internationally, but I love knowing that I purchased something in Paris.

    Will you be sharing your Thanksgiving with us?

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